The Type 15 light tank was born as a replacement for the Type 62 light tank.
China currently owns a massive tanks “collection”, more than 7,000. However, most of them were obsolete T-series tanks supplied by the Soviet Union since the 1950s during the Cold War.
China soon realized this. Over the past several decades, the Chinese Army has implemented many measures to renew its tank forces. The most recent achievement is the Type 99 main battle tank, which is expected to be the country’s flagship in the defense industry competition with the US and Russia.
Although the Type 99 and Type 99A are now considered to be among the top main battle tanks in the world, there are also places that are not for them, such as plateaus, forests, and water-heavy regions. The need for a new, lighter tank that could operate efficiently in complex terrain became imperative.
The new tanks will replace the Type 62 light tanks manufactured in the 1960s, the role is similar but more powerful. The Type 15 light tank program was born to meet these requirements of the Chinese army.
The Type 15 light tank program, also known as ZTQ-15, developed by Norinco, was first revealed in 2010. In 2016, an export version of this tank, called VT-5, was displayed at the International Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai City. After many public appearances, the Type 15 tank was officially put into service by the end of December 2018.
At that time, this event attracted the attention of military experts around the world. The addition of new weapons such as the Type 15 tank not only strengthens the combat power of army units, but also marks a new step, as well as China’s ambition in modernizing the defense industry. Type 62 tanks, the first Chinese light tanks manufactured in more than half a century ago, will gradually be retired.
Design of Type 15
As a light tank, the Type 15 has a standard weight of only about 33 tons, and even when equipped with armor packages, it weighs only 36 tons. It is significantly lighter than the two Chinese main battle tanks, the Type-99 and the Type-96, nearly 60 tons. Type 15 has a length of 9.2m (30 ft), width of 3.3m (11 ft) and height of 2.5m (8.2 ft). Its lighter frame is accompanied by a hydro-pneumatic suspension system, also found in Japan’s Type 10 tank. It dynamically adjusts ground clearance to maximize maneuverability and combat efficacy on uneven terrain.
The hull and the turret of the Type 15 is made with all-welded steel armour which provides stand protection against firing of small arms and shell splinters. The tank has a low-profile turret, similar to contemporary Chinese and Russian tank designs. The turret is designed with angled sides, glacis plate is almost horizontal, providing protection against missile attacks. The main gun is not equipped with muzzle brake. A fume extractor is located near the middle of the gun barrel. To expand the range, the tank will carry spare fuel tanks at the rear of the hull.
The tank is equipped with Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear protection, an automatic loading mechanism with ammunition stored in the turret bustle, air conditioning system, command-and control equipment, commander’s panoramic sights, gunner’s thermal imaging sight, laser range finder, advanced ballistic computer, a tactical command system and a navigation system that includes Inertial Navigation System and satellite communications. The hull has an additional protection option by explosive reactive armor.
Type 15 tanks own a electronically controlled diesel engine with fully-automatic transmission. It deliveries 1,000 horsepower, almost double its Type 62 predecessor. This powerful engine gives the Type 15 a power to weight ratio of 30 hp per ton. For comparison, America’s most advanced M1A2 Abrams tanks get just 23 hp per ton.
One advantage of the diesel engine is that it is less affected by altitude, giving the Type 15 better performance. Type 15 can reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h, a range of 450 km and can be increased to 800 km with extra fuel tanks. The standard crew consists of three people: driver, gunner and commander. This new tank can be airlifted by military cargo aircraft as well as be paradropped.
Due to their relatively light weight, the Type-15 cannot use a 125mm smoothbore gun of the same type as the Type-99 and Type-96, it is too large and has a strong recoil. Therefore, Chinese designers chose a 105 mm rifled gun, which is an economical and reasonable choice, meeting the requirements of combat. The chosen model was the famous British 105mm L7 gun. Previously, China imported some 105mm L7 guns from Austria and they copied them successfully. They also had a number of improvements, such as extending the barrel, increasing the chamber pressure and equipping a new type of armor-piercing ammunition.
Some people suspect that the 105mm caliber is too small, but the L7 gun has been fitted on famous tanks like Challenger, Merkava and even first-generation M1 Abrams.
The Type 15 is also equipped with an autoloader system. The tank carried a total of 38 105mm rounds, which can include APFSDS, HEAT, HE, and gun-launched anti-tank guided missile. The missile has a maximum range of 5,000m and is fitted with a tandem High Explosive Anti-Tank warhead able to destroy armoured or tanks protected with reactive armour.
The second armament of the Type 15 includes one remotely operated weapon station mounted on the roof of the turret which is armed with a 12.7mm machine gun and one 40mm automatic grenade launcher. Two banks of three electrically operated smoke-grenade dischargers are mounted on each side at the rear of the turret and coupled to a laser detector. The turret is fully stabilized to offer high accuracy against static and moving targets.
According to military experts, the Type 15 will undoubtedly be deployed in areas near China’s border with Afghanistan and India. It was rated to create a significant advantage over Indian armored units, which lacked comparable light tanks. The light weight makes the Type 15 easy to deploy in rugged terrain such as highlands, forests or even wetlands.
Even in the context of war on islands or coastal areas, Type 15 can operate more efficiently than amphibious tanks thanks to its high flexibility. In the future, it is likely that this tank will be equipped with Chinese Marines, besides the Army as it is now.
Unlike the heavier Type 99A, the Type 15 will be exported as VT-5. Bangladesh has ordered 44 units. In the future, along with positive reviews and comments from experts, the Type 15 light tank is expected to become a potential item in the world arms market.
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A correction; The L7 was NEVER used on the Challanger. That was, from it’sinception a 120mm armed system .